On a cold December night in 2019, a 29-year-old woman named Esther Butcher froze to death on a street in Hull, England. Esther suffered from severe schizophrenia, and her family had been trying to get her help for years, with no success. After her death, her parents came forward to publicly blame the broken mental health system for their daughter’s tragic end.

Esther’s parents, Mark and Mary Butcher, say they tried everything they could think of to get their daughter the care she needed, from contacting doctors and social workers to begging the police for help. But they say they were repeatedly turned away or told there was nothing that could be done until Esther reached a breaking point and was hospitalized.

“We were fighting a losing battle, and we knew it,” said Mark Butcher. “Esther was slipping away from us, and we couldn’t stop it.”

Esther’s story is sadly not unique. People with severe mental illnesses are some of the most vulnerable members of society, and they often don’t get the care and support they need until it’s too late. The mental health system in many countries is underfunded, understaffed, and overstretched, leaving patients and their families in a desperate situation.

The Butchers’ story highlights some of the key problems within the mental health system. Here are some of the factors that contributed to Esther’s tragic death:

Long waiting lists for treatment: Mental health services are often overwhelmed with patients, with long waiting lists for appointments and treatments. For Esther, this meant that even when her family was able to get her an appointment with a psychiatrist, it could take months to actually see them.

Lack of inpatient beds: When Esther’s condition rapidly deteriorated, her family tried to get her admitted to a psychiatric hospital. However, there were no beds available, and she was sent home with medication and the promise of an appointment in a few weeks’ time. Her parents say this was a common occurrence and that the lack of inpatient beds was a major issue in their daughter’s care.

Overreliance on medication: When mental health services are stretched thin, it’s often easier to prescribe medication than to provide therapy or other forms of support. Esther was prescribed a cocktail of antipsychotic drugs, which helped to manage her symptoms but didn’t address the underlying causes of her illness.

Lack of continuity of care: Mental health services are often fragmented, with patients seeing different doctors and therapists at different times. Esther’s family says that she often had to start from scratch with a new healthcare provider every time she saw someone new, which made it hard to build a consistent treatment plan.

Stigma and discrimination: Finally, people with severe mental illnesses face a great deal of stigma and discrimination. Esther’s parents say that they often felt judged and dismissed by healthcare providers, who didn’t take their concerns seriously because of their daughter’s psychiatric history.

The Butchers are now calling for significant changes to the mental health system to prevent other families from going through what they did. They want more funding for mental health services, more inpatient beds, and better training for healthcare providers to help them recognize and respond to the needs of people with severe mental illnesses.

Their story is a heartbreaking reminder that mental health is just as important as physical health, and that we need to do more to support and care for people with mental illnesses. A broken mental health system can have devastating consequences, not just for individuals with mental illnesses but for their families and communities as well.

We need to start treating mental health as the public health crisis it is and invest in better services and support. People like Esther Butcher deserve better, and it’s up to all of us to make sure they get it.